My Internship in an Intercultural Virtual Team – Three learnings for Time Management

by Jessica Grosser

Internships are a great way to get an insight in different areas, so therefore I was really excited to do an internship with an intercultural virtual team over the summer.

Firstly I did not think much about it as I already experienced how it was to work with an virtual team but the difference there was I still travelled every morning to my office in Zürich where I could engage with other team members in the office as only a part of my team was virtual.

Secondly, I thought it would be great to spend the summer in a virtual office so I could plan my free time and enjoy the nice weather at home.

Another difference to a corporate environment is that this intercultural virtual team is a team of volunteers. They mainly work on this project outside of “working hours” while they run their own businesses or follow a corporate career.

What have I learnt from my internship in the intercultural virtual team?

Higher engagement when no one is watching

I tried to engage more in my work when no one was around to check on how I did my work. I tried to do an even better job to prove that I actually did what I was told to. Even though I may had done my work for the day and thought I could enjoy the nice weather I constantly checked my phone to see if I got any mails

I couldn’t really enjoy my free time as I still was engaged mentally in my work. For that reason I just had to learn to get a different work-life balance. When I worked in an office from 8 am to 5 pm I knew exactly when I started and when I stopped.

I always planned sufficient time to be able to work on important tasks in the mornings. I also planned time in the late afternoon or evening to respond to mails which I got during the day.

Communication is key

Working in an intercultural virtual team requires a different communication approach than in an office.

First of all despite the fact that also in an office you receive mails with working tasks most of the time you have the chance to go to the person who sent you the mail to ask for more detailed information. You can watch their body language and normally you speak the same mother tongue.

On the other hand in an intercultural virtual team there is no one around to ask directly therefore you exchange more emails. Emails do have a tendency to lead to confusion (especially when you are not writing in your native language). You need to be careful with the use of your words.

With more senior professionals you might have a different writing style as well. Maybe they are more formal in their communication and prefer to talk on Skype rather than writing in English.

For me it is easier to talk to a person directly and describe my problem as sometimes not everything written comes out the same as you mean it. This is why I had to learn how and when to write a mail so that it is efficient while not creating an information overflow.

Regular meetings with your supervisor in person or at least over Skype are helpful. Skype or face time are really important communication tools in intercultural virtual teams as it makes it possible to talk to your colleagues face to face. At the same time you have a chance to talk about personal topics better on Skype.

Home offers more distraction

As I worked from home there was sometimes quite a distraction (from personal phone ringing, chores which need to be done, pets which need attention etc.). Even if you can sleep longer and don’t have to dress up to go to work, it also isn’t easy sometimes as you have to tell your family or roommates that even you are at home you are not available.

This is why I had to learn to just close my door, tell everyone I am not available in the moment and turn my phone off.

Conclusion

I started my internship with great expectations about how I can arrange my own free time and no one who is bossing me around the whole day but it showed that it actually is more work than getting up early in the morning and dragging yourself to the office every day.

I guess one thing that made it easier for me to work in a virtual office is that I am a student so I am used to working at home and tell myself that I have to work now which I can imagine maybe hard if you are used to always work in an office with your colleagues.

All in all my internship was a great experience as it really showed me how it is to work in an intercultural virtual team and it was something totally different. But in the end I also think that it isn’t something I could do forever because it is nice to go to an office and just have small talk with your colleagues as a virtual office misses something crucial for human begins: social interaction.

What is your experience working with intercultural, virtual teams?

Jessica Grosser is a 23 years old student in International Management at ZHAW in Winterthur. Last year she studied a year in Hong Kong. Before her studies she already did an internship at UBS and Ringier AG in Shanghai.

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